Identity theft is the highest form of crime in the US. Statistics released in 2021 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) show identity theft at the top of the list, with 1,434,695 reported cases, with an increase of 19% since 2020.
Identity theft happens when someone’s personal identity is stolen and used in order to commit fraud or similar crimes. Identifiable information includes personal identity numbers, names, dates of birth, Driver’s license numbers, bank and credit card details, and social security numbers. This can cause untold damage to personal credit ratings and financial reputations.
Identity information can be used to open bank accounts or to run up credit in someone else’s name, resulting in fraudulent transactions and a bad credit record.
This article serves as a precaution against identity theft and to advise people who have been affected by it on how to go about clearing their credit records and recovering their “clean” financial status. We also give some advice on their rights within the law. Above all, a person who has been affected by identity theft has the right to fair and dignified treatment in the eyes of the law. If you’re an aspiring Juris Doctor and want to help people affected by identity theft, consider the juris doctorate degree online with Cleveland State University and experience a rigorous program aided by an alumni mentor guiding your professional development.
A common method of identity theft is sifting through trash cans. Discarded envelopes and letters provide names, addresses, bank account numbers, and medical details. Old computer equipment that is thrown away or donated to charity can fall into the wrong hands. Don’t throw anything in the trash before first making sure it can never be used or read again.
Cybercrime is also on the increase, with hackers gaining information via computer networks, malware installed on computer hard drives, fraudulent emails phishing for information, access to public or organizational databases, and even browsing social media sites. It is often the vulnerable people who don’t understand technology who are the hardest hit. It is imperative that you protect your personal electronic devices to prevent such attacks from happening.
Be vigilant. People who have had their identities stolen are often not aware of it until they experience a rejection for credit or receive a call from an institution regarding an unpaid debt or unpaid credit card.
Install anti-virus and anti-malware software on your electronic devices. Back up important personal information and delete it from your local drive. Shred documents and destroy old credit cards.
Never give anyone your password or security PIN. This applies to emails with official-looking company logos and phone calls from people posing as employees of financial institutions.
Keep your social security number safe; don’t carry your card with you, and report a loss immediately. Be careful of whom you share your personal details with.
Look out for unauthorized transactions on your bank statements. Review your credit report often to pick up any irregularities.
Investigate methods of “freezing” your credit files to prevent people from applying for a credit account or utility services in your name.
Report identity theft to the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov and get some tips there to help you manage the situation. Below is a summary of steps to recovering your identity.
- Know your rights. The first step in the recovery process is to report your identity theft to the FTC. An FTC Identity Theft Report will be issued to you so that you can start the process of clearing your name.
- Put everything in writing.
- Ask for copies of all documentation relating to your identity theft, free of charge.
- Monitor your credit reports regularly to ensure that no further debt is incurred.
- Contact debt collectors. Debt collectors offer a service to companies that have problem debtors on their books. Send a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report to the debt collectors, requesting that they stop contacting you for the debt. Ask for written details of what you owe.
- Notify a credit bureau of the situation. Credit bureaus are large organizations that keep track of everyone’s credit records, including how well they pay and whether they have any debts. Once you are flagged by a credit bureau as a credit risk, you will find it difficult to take out a loan thereafter. Ask them to remove fraudulent information from your record and to prevent you from being handed over to debt collectors. There are three national credit bureaus that share information. By contacting one bureau, your Identity Theft Report will be communicated to the remaining two bureaus.
- Set up fraud alerts. Ask the credit bureaus to place a 12-month fraud alert on your credit report. They’ll attempt to identify the perpetrator and put measures in place to stop further credit applications. In addition, submit a written application to the three credit bureaus requesting a 7-year fraud alert on your account, which will prevent companies from issuing credit in your name without first contacting you. Be sure to give them your correct contact information.
How this affects you financially
The good news is that you have limited liability in cases of identity theft.
Most states absolve you of any debt that has been incurred on new accounts opened without your permission.
If you report the loss of your credit or debit card before it is used, you will not be liable. However, once used without being reported, your maximum liability on a credit card is $50.
A stolen debit card will incur a fee of $50 if reported within two days of learning about the loss or theft. Thereafter, you will pay $500 within the first 60 days of the loss of your card, and if reported more than 60 days after your statement is sent to you, your liability could be unlimited.
Your federal rights
If the identity thief is criminally prosecuted in a federal court, you have the right to protection from the accused and reasonable and timely notice of any court proceedings, parole, release, or escape of the prisoner.
You may be included in court proceedings unless the judge decides otherwise, and you may confer with the attorney for the government.
Be vigilant at all times. Guard your personal information carefully, whether physical or digital. Review your bank statements regularly for any unfamiliar purchases. The onus is on you to ensure that you minimize your vulnerability in terms of theft of your identity.